Illegal pitching motion / TUE 3-28-17 / 18th-century mathetmatician who introduced function / Inspiring 1993 movie about Notre Dame football team / Tom who coached Dallas Cowboys for 29 years

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Constructor: Ryan Milligan

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: adjective --> adverb: relatively famous people have their adjective last names turned into adverbs, as they are imagined saying things in a manner befitting their last names

Theme answers:
  • 20A: "Sorry I'm in your space, it's a n actress thing," said GLENN CLOSELY
  • 28A: "Don't interrupt me on my radio show," said HOWARD STERNLY
  • 46A: "Gotta run, pop concert calls," said TAYLOR SWIFTLY
  • 54A: "Right to the point: You're beautiful, it's true," said JAMES BLUNTLY 
Word of the Day: ALDO Gucci (17A: Designer Gucci) —
Aldo Gucci (26 May 1905 – 19 January 1990) was the chairman of Gucci Shops Inc. from 1953 to 1986. He was the eldest son of Guccio Gucci, who founded the company bearing his name in 1921. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is out of a can. The Tom Swifty, one of the oldest and lowest forms of wordplay, has been used A Lot as the basis for crossword themes, both NYT and otherwise. I rarely like such puzzles at all, but I have seen them done with a certain degree of thoughtfulness and polish—where all the theme answers are thematically linked somehow, for instance (here's a WSJ one that Sam Donaldson did where all the answers are imagined as things a tailor might say). But this one just seems lazy—find (relatively) famous people with adjectives as last names; turn last names into adverbs; write wacky clue. You could do a lot of these. Judith Lightly, Martin Shortly, Jean Smartly, Barney Frankly, Christopher Crossly, Michael Sharply (wink), etc. Today's themers have nothing in common and the clues aren't that funny and The End. Also, the fill is middling to less-than-middling. It's a bust all around. In short, it's a Tuesday.

I saw people (well, person) on Twitter saying the puzzle was extremely easy. My time was totally normal. Theme felt mostly easy, but I had a bunch of little things slow me down slightly. DNA for RNA (31D: Material in strands), for one. Then somehow cluing DRAMA as a "class" made no sense to me and I needed every cross (9A: Class with masks?). Then I rediscovered that I can't spell SPORADIC (I used a "T" !?) (38D: Occasional). Do people really remember who James Blunt is? He strikes me as a one-hit wonder who is not at all on the level of the other theme answers, fame-wise. Also, his one hit is nothing I care to remember—like nails on the chalkboard of my soul. Wincingly cloying. It was massive, for sure. But that clue did not clearly point to a person when I first looked at it (54A: Right to the point: You're beautiful, it's true," said ___), and I imagine it will be the least familiar themer of the day for most folks.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Old-fashioned wine holder / MON 3-27-17 / What Google's Ngram program tracks for word usage / Labourite's opponent in British politics / Group of books that educated person is supposed to be familiar with

Monday, March 27, 2017

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (slowish for Monday, though maybe that's 'cause the grid is extra-wide today)

THEME: STAKE OUT (39A: Police operation ... or, when read another way, what a grammarian would like to do to 18-, 24-, 52- and 65-Across) — ungrammatical expressions involving extra esses...

Theme answers:
  • ALL'S I KNOW... (18A: "The one thing that's clear to me ...")
  • A LONG WAYS OFF (24A: Distant)
  • AND THEN I SAYS ... (52A: Narrative conncector) [that is One Hell of a vague clue]
  • HOW'S ABOUT ...? (65A: "What do you think of ...?")
Word of the Day: TROIKA (30D: Group of three) —
noun: troika; plural noun: troikas
  1. 1.
    a Russian vehicle pulled by a team of three horses abreast.
    • a team of three horses for a troika.
  2. 2.
    a group of three people working together, especially in an administrative or managerial capacity. (google)
• • •

Can't tell if this was slightly harder than the average Monday, or just took slightly longer because of the extra-wide (16) grid. All's I know is I was about 15-20 seconds slower than normal (significant on a Monday). At first, I wasn't sure why the 16-square width was necessary, but if you're gonna put an even-number-lettered revealer in the center, then yeah, your grid has to be an even number of squares wide. I didn't think the revealer worked very well as clued; that is, "a grammarian would like to 'S' take out" sounds totally ridiculous, but that's the formulation the clue specifically asks for. S TAKE-OUT is better as a noun—something a grammarian would like to perform on the relevant theme entries. Clued as a verb phrase, it's nonsense. Further, A LONG WAYS OFF seems like an outlier here in at least a couple way(s). It's the only truly stand-alone phrase, all the other being sentence lead-ins. It's the only one that is not definitively colloquial, i.e. a commonly if not exclusively *spoken* formulation. It's also the least grammar-violating, ALL'S and HOW'S being grammatically nonsensical, and I SAYS being a matter of overt subj/verb disagreement. Changing WAY to WAYS (or vice versa) just doesn't seem in the same universe as the other grammarian-offending phrases.

The non-theme stuff, on the other hand, is quite nice, with six Downs of 7+ letters in length giving the grid a lot more character than you typically see on a Monday. Plus, there's very little in the way of junk. This has all been nicely polished, with only AAHED and maybe GLO getting me even the slightest bit RILEd. I love the words FLAGON (27D: Old-fashioned wine holder) and TROIKA, for purely aesthetic reasons.

[sorry this song was in the background of the trailer for the movie "STAKEOUT" and so I looked it up and it is pretty evocative of a pretty terrible time in pop music videos so I thought 'sure, throw it in...']

Congrats to Dan Feyer, who won his 7th American Crossword Puzzle Tournament championship yesterday, beating out fellow killer-solvers Tyler Hinman and Joon Pahk. I HOPE to see you tomorrow. Au revoir.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS NOT SO'S YOU'D NOTICE woulda made a nice central 15 in a normal-sized grid ... maybe change the revealer to SLOP and shove it in a corner ... I'm just spitballin' here ...

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